Scary School Bus to Nowhere

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Scary School Bus to Nowhere
So, you think "7" is a lucky number?


And you think "777" is three times luckier?

Hah, hah, hah!

Have I got news for you. I'm Eugene Gill, and me and my friend, Alonso Monroe Stephens can tell you that "777" was not lucky for us. Why? Because "777" was the number of our school bus.

The scariest school bus in history!

Our terrifying tale began one morning when we ran down the stairs on our way to school. We were late, as usual, but Alonso was later than me. We could see our school bus heading towards us, but this fat lady was blocking our path to the bus stop. If we missed our bus, my mum wouldn't let me watch TV for a week.

If only I'd known then what I know now. If only we had missed the bus. We could have saved ourselves to much fear, so much terror, so much — danger!

I jumped off the path and ran across the grass. It had rained overnight. With every step, my new sneakers sank further and further into the mud. Squelch, squelch, squelch. Soon, they were a hideous yukky brown!

Alonso was smarter. He squeezed past the fat lady and ran along the path.

We just made it to the bus stop in time. The door swished open. We clambered inside, trying to catch our breath.

And that was when I noticed the first funny thing! The bus was empty. There was just the driver, Alonso, and me. No one else was aboard. Where were all our friends? Lacy Campos? Morris Rose? Adalberto Roy? Where were they...?

"Alonso," I asked, "is today a holiday?"

"No," he shook his head, looking amazed at all the empty seats. "It's a school day."

As the bus moved off, we made our way to our usual place at the back. I looked over my shoulder. And that was when I noticed the second funny thing!

The driver was different. He wasn't the usual driver we had every day. This driver had curly, curly hair. It was colored hair, too, like an orange. And his face was covered with little holes where he used to have pimples. And his nose looked sharp. Like an axe!

"The driver," I whispered to Alonso, "I know him. It's the killer."

Alonso turned white. "The k-k-killer?"

"Not a people-killer," I chided him, sitting down. "A chicken-killer. I've seen him. At the market. He chops the heads off the chickens!"

And just then, as the bus was driving along, that's when I noticed the third funny thing.

Only it wasn't funny.

It was scary.


Alonso noticed it, too. He was shaking like a leaf, clutching his schoolbag to his chest like a shield.

"Hey, where are we? Something's wrong!" he called. "Look... where is everything!"

I was looking out the window already. We should have seen what we saw every day. All the flats and houses, the shopping centre, the bank on the corner, the post office, the market, the car park. Instead, NOTHING!

It was like we were driving through a mist.

Alonso was wide-eyed with fear. "I'm getting off!"

"You can't!" I grabbed his arm. "We'll be late for school!"

He looked at me scornfully. "What makes you think this bus is even going to our school?"

"Well, it must be going somewhere!" I snapped, trying to cover my nerves.

I rubbed the window with my hand. I thought maybe the aircon was fogging up the glass. But nothing happened! All I could see outside was this grey, swirling cloud.

"Are we still on the ground or flying?" I joked, not feeling at all funny.

Alonso was on his feet. "I want to get off! You can stay if you want to!"

"I don't want to," I mumbled, and started pressing the bell.


But the red STOP sign didn't light up. Chicken-killer kept driving. There was just the back of his orange head and the grey mist at the front of the bus. Nothing else!

I could feel the cold tingles on my neck and arms.

"W-w-where is he taking us?" Alonso wanted to know.

"How would I know?" I gulped. Actually, it was more like a hulp, half-way between a "Help" and a gulp.

"He's not going to stop!" Alonso wailed.

I rang the bell again. "He has to!" I said angrily.


Nothing! The bus kept going. I choked back my terror.

"Maybe the bell isn't loud enough," I offered. "Maybe — maybe he's deaf. Maybe a chicken cut off his ear!" I joked again.

"Funn-nee," Alonso glared at me. "What are we going to do?"

I knew! "Jump off at the first red light," I suggested. "He has to stop at a red light, right?"

"WHAT lights???" Alonso screamed.

He was right! In all that grey mist, where were the traffic lights?

For that matter, where were the roads and streets and traffic?

It was like we had stepped out of our own world into another world,a grey world, with just me and Alonso and the chicken-killer.

Travelling on an empty bus to nowhere...
We kept going further and further. I opened my bag. I found my pager. I tried to switch it on. But it was dead. I tried again. It stayed dead. So we were cut off from contact with anybody else!

Alonso tried to open a window. Maybe we could just j-j-jump out? And land — where?

He unlatched the window, but it refused to move. Quickly, we tried all the other windows at the back of the bus. Nothing! None of the windows would open. They were all locked, but how? Magic? No, of course not! No such thing, right?

"Can we break a window?" Alonso wondered.

"What with?" I shrugged. "I've got nothing sharp. And that glass is special. Safety glass or something. It doesn't break like normal glass..."

By that time, there was only one thing we could do. We started screaming, and yelling for help, and beating our fists on the windoes. But the bus kept going. Chicken-killer didn't even turn around or anything.

So we decided to save our breath.

We slumped into our seats and looked at each other. Alonso was sweating. Sweating from his forehead, sweating down his cheeks, sweating along his upper lip. His eyes rolled around. Me? Well, I had this cold, hard lump stuck in my throat. It wouldn't go up and it wouldn't go down. My heart was hammering like a mad machine. And someone had let about a hundred icy cold butterflies go in my stomach!

I struggled to breath. My voice sounded all squeezed.

"W-w-we've got to get out of here," I whispered.

"We have to think of s-s-something," Alonso agreed in a strangled voice. "But what...?" Sweat was even dripping off his nose.

"My dad has a friend in the army," I told him. "He's a commando."

"But he's not here now, is he?" Alonso groaned.

"No, but we could do what commandos would do," I suggested. I lowered my voice, just in case chicken-killer had microphones hidden under our seats. "We attack!"

Alonso looked even more scared. "Attack who?"

I pointed at chicken-killer and put a finger to my lips. "We grab him," I whispered, "and force him to stop."

"B-b-but he's bigger than us," Alonso protested, sweating even more.

"But there are two of us, and only one of him!"

"Y-y-yes, but —" Alonso looked at me as if I was crazy. Maybe I was, but it was better to do something than nothing, right?

So we lowered ourselves to the floor and crept forward down the aisle. The bus must have turned a corner in the mist. We were thrown against the opposite seats.

"Ow!" Alonso rubbed his shoulder.

"SHHHHH!" I commanded.

We inched our way forward, holding the seat legs to steady ourselves. I called a halt and looked up. Chicken-killer was still driving. So far, so good. He hadn't noticed a thing.

I gave the commando signal to advance. But this wasn't a war movie. This was me and Alonso on school bus "777"!

I was sweating, too. It stung my eyes. I tried to wipe them, but my hand was filthy black from the bus floor.

Soon, we were crouched behind the driver's seat. Terror gripped me. My teeth started to chatter. I forced myself to show no fear. I looked at Alonso. Our eyes met. I started the countdown for our attack.

"Three... two... one..."

Together we leapt up and grabbed chicken-killer's arms. If we pinned him down, he'd have to hit the brakes.

And that was when Alonso screamed almost as loudly as me!

When I grabbed chicken-killer's arms, they snapped off at the elbows. I was holding his right hand in my hands. It was cold and stiff. I waved it around wildly and threw it away. And just when I thought I was going to faint, something else happened...


Chicken-killer's head rolled off his neck, bounced off his shoulder, and landed on the floor between Alonso's feet.

"EUGEEEEEEENE!" he screamed.

He danced up and down, from one leg to the other, terrified.


But chicken-killer's head was just lying there... LOOKING AT HIM! While the bus kept driving on, the steering wheel turning from left to right, right to left, ALL BY ITSELF!
I think I fainted first, then Alonso. Just the sight of that headless chicken-killer and the bus driving itself blacked me out. The last thing I remembered was chicken-killer's head on the floor, his blank face and orange hair!

This was supposed to be our school bus, right? It was meant to be just another ordinary, NORMAL school day, right? But it wasn't! It was a nightmare, freakish and hideous, trapped on a bus that had a mind of its own.

My eyes closed, my knees wobbled, and my legs just folded up.


I woke up, a minute or two later, shaking all over. Then I really started to shake. Chicken-killer's head was inches from my face, rocking a bit with the motion of the bus.

Alonso was also coming round. He looked dazed and his white school shirt was covered with grime from the floor.

"H-h-have we got to school yet?" he croaked.

"I d-d-don't think so," I groaned. Never had I wanted to see my school so much!

We struggle to stand up, gripping the back of the driver's seat. The bus was still moving, but bumping a lot, as though we were on a rough road.


As I hauled myself higher, the windscreen came into view. For a moment, I couldn't believe my eyes. The swirling mist had cleared. All I could see was green! We were in the middle of a jungle, bouncing along some kind of deserted farm track between towering trees cloaked with vines. There was a sudden turn in the track. A scream leapt to my throat. At the last moment, the steering wheel spun and the bus took the corner easily.

I wiped the sweat from my forehead.

"I can't watch," I mumbled, but somehow my eyes remained glued to the road ahead.

And that was when I felt Alonso's hand on my shoulder. Squeezing my shoulder, then shaking it roughly.

"Eugene..." His voice was hollow. "T-t-turn around," he begged. "P-p-please turn around..."

He sounded so quiet, so fearful. I took a deep breath and turned slowly. What now, I wondered. What else could go wrong?

"Oh no..." I breathed.


Now, you may think that would have cheered us up. Like, we had someone to talk to. But, well, it wasn't quite like that.

Yes, all the seats were occupied.


A short, fat little man, with a thick, black moustache and thick, black, oily-looking hair.

And he was wearing a bright orange shirt and blue shorts.

And there were fifty of him, of them, sitting in every seat!

"I want to go home!" wailed Alonso.

"We'll be home soon," said the fifty men who all looked the same.

"No-o-o!" I gasped, hanging on to Alonso.

Suddenly, he stiffened.

"Eugene," he whispered, "I know that man..."

I was about to ask which one, but that would have sounded dumb. "W-w-who is he, are they?" I asked.

Alonso leaned closer. "I've seen him, them, before... lots of times... when I go to my uncle's market..." Alonso swallowed. "He's the man, the men, the man who sells the fish!"


We looked at each other.

"Are you sure?" I demanded.

"The fish man," Alonso nodded.

I stared at the fifty fat men with the fifty black moustaches and fifty orange shirts and fifty blue shorts.

"But it doesn't make sense," I puzzled. "First, the driver. I knew him. Chicken-killer! Now, the passenger. You know him. Fish man! It's like... it's like..."

"It's like they're real," Alonso thought, "but not real!"

"People we've seen before," I suggested, "but people who aren't really here..."

"But how do we know that?" Alonso demanded. "Are we here and they're not?"

I pinched myself. "Trust me, we're here," I told him. "The big question is, where is HERE...?"

We had started off in a mist. Now we were in a jungle. So much had happened in such a short time. If only we'd missed this crazy bus!

We looked at the fifty fish men who all looked the same. And the fifty fish men all looked at us. Nobody said anything. Well, almost nobody...


Alonso jumped. "Who said that?"

"I hate to tell you this..." I pointed to chicken-killer's head. "I-I-I think it did."

As we watched, chicken-killer's lips moved again.

"Help!" screamed Alonso, pushing past me and running to the back of the bus. I was right behind him.

We clung to the pole at the back, surrounded by the fish men.

"Dead heads don't t-t-talk," Alonso stammered.

"Th-th-that one does!" My fingers were so sweaty I almost lost my grip on the shiny pole. "We've got to get out of here!"

"But we're in the jungle," Alonso cried. "Where do we go?"

I shrugged. "Maybe we can find our way home... or maybe someone will find us..." I looked at the fish men. "Or maybe your fish men will go somewhere we can follow..."

"I don't want to follow him!" Alonso hesitated, staring at the nearest fish men. "M-m-maybe he's like your chicken-killer. I mean, m-m-maybe if we touched him, his head would fall off, too!"

I shot him a grin. "You want to try?"

Alonso looked like he'd rather see my head fall off. "It's not funny! We might never get to school..." He thought some more. "We might never even get home again..."

I put a sweaty, shaky arm around his shoulder. "I was only trying to cheer you up." I stared at the fish men, too. "But maybe you're right. Maybe they're dummies or something. Maybe they're not really the fish man."

"So who are they?" Alonso begged. "And what do they want with us?"

"Maybe it's not us," I suggested, "maybe it's someone else they're waiting for. Maybe we just happened to get onto the wrong bus."

But something inside told me I was wrong.
We were on the right bus. We were meant to be on this bus. And we were meant to meet chicken-killer and fish man.

And that really scared me!

Because it meant Alonso and I were targets.

Somebody wanted us to be here. Somebody was trying to scare us. Somebody... but WHO?

And WHY...?

"Listen!" Alonso shook me.

I heard it, too. A weird, high-pitched whistling sound. Like an icy gale. The kind of noise the wind makes, blowing through a broken window at midnight.

And as the wind grew louder, the bus got slower.

"We're stopping!" Alonso looked around, wide eyed. "But why here?"

I didn't tell Alonso, but I had a horrible feeling we were about to find out.


The wind was now deafening and we clapped our hands over our ears. The noise made my head spin.

The bus was still moving, turning off the farm track and along a narrow path through the jungle. Vines and branches slapped and scraped against the windows. The sunlight was blocked out by thick treetops. We were moving into a dark, gloomy world of weird shapes and shadows. And the wind grew even louder, howling all around us, but outside, nothing stirred. Everything was still!

"Look!" Alonso pointed.

The path ended at a huge tree, draped with masses of evil-looking purple flowers. As we watched, one of the flowers opened and swallowed a fat butterfly.

"We're going to hit the trees!" I yelled.

Closer and closer.

Until, at the last moment, part of the trunk swung up like a gigantic door and the bus drove inside. We were swallowed up by a black cavern.

The darkness closed in around us.

The bus had stopped.

Someone had turned off the engine.

And then, nothing. Just silence. Like a grave.

"Now what...?" gulped Alonso.
When the lights blazed on, we had to shield our eyes. A strange blue-coloured light, more dazzling than anything we had ever seen before. And with the light, came one shock after another!

The fifty fish men had vanished.

So had chicken-killer. And chicken-killer's head.

And so had the bus!

Alonso and I were standing in a completely black space, not really a room, just a space. We were flooded with the light. And we were not alone...

A man was standing away from us, staring at us, with a mocking smile on his face. He wasn't young, but he wasn't old. In fact, he didn't seem to have any age. And he was dressed totally in black. A black shirt, a black bow-tie, a long black coat, and black pants. He looked a bit like a magician.

"So, at least we meet," he announced. "Eugene and Alonso, I hope you enjoyed your little trip."

Alonso was looking around, frowning. "Wheres the... the tree? Are we inside the tree?"

"Tree?" sneered the man in black. "What tree? You only thought you saw a tree."

"We did see it!" I was getting annoyed. "The bus drove inside it!"

"And who would believe you?" the man asked me. "Buses don't drive into trees, Eugene," he smirked. He took a step towards us. "Perhaps I should introduce myself. I am the Memory Man."

"The what...?" Alonso shook his head. "What are you? Some kind of... magician?"

"Magician?" The Memory Man's mouth turned down in disgust. "Tsk, tsk, tsk. How insulting. I am an illusionist," he declared loudly, "the best illusionist in the world."

"Like David Copperfield on TV?" I asked.

The Memory Man laughed. "My little friend, I am the master of all illusionists! I can make you think, and see, and do, anytime I want!"

"L-l-like just now?" My head was spinning again. Whoever he was, the Memory Man was very, very dangerous.

"Exactly. When you are in my power," he smirked, "your mind becomes my toy."

"I don't believe you!" Alonso shuddered.

"My friend," said the Memory Man, "I can make you believe anything. And there's nothing you can do to stop me."

"H-h-how...?" My voice sounded very thin.

"Simple, simple, simple," the Memory Man told us. "My illusions are based on your memories. Your memories of your school bus, your memories of other people you've seen before. If I can make you believe one thing is real, you'll believe everything else is real, too, no matter how incredible it is."

He snapped his fingers and a huge picture of a human brain seem to float in the darkness behind him.

"Your brain is full of memories. When I control your memories, I can control you," he explained. "Whatever I need is already in your mind. Memories of things, of places, of people. All I have to do is put them together in different ways."

"So when we saw our bus..." I began to say.

"It looked real. It looked just the same as you remembered it. And when you got on board, the driver was someone you remembered. So he became real for you. As did the fish seller. Because they were real in your memory, I could make them become real again in your life. So real, in fact, that you actually believed all those strange things were happening to you."

"B-b-but they didn't happen," Alonso wondered, "did they?"

"Of course not." The Memory Man lifted an eyebrow. "But now that they've become memories, I could make them happen again," he promised, with a very evil kind of smile.

"Don't bother," I pleaded. "But you haven't told us why you made all those things happen to us. You must have a reason."

"Such curiosity, Eugene," the Memory Man chided me. "After all, you are my guests."

Alonso frowned at him. "No, we're not. You've kidnapped us."

"But that would be a crime," mocked the Memory Man. "I've simply given you a little adventure, a sample of my talents, before we have our little talk..."

There was something in his voice that made my blood froze. "Talk...?" I asked him. Warning bells were ringing in my mind. Don't trust this man! I forced myself to sound really calm, really cool. "What do you want to talk to us about?"

The Memory Man shoved his hands in his pockets. He just stood there, rocking on his heels, regarding us like a scientist studying bugs in a glass jar.

"You see, my friends, I've chosen you for something rather special. Something you can do for me. You might even say we're all going to become... PARTNERS!"
Alonso and I, partners with the Memory Man? What kind of partners? It didn't make sense. We looked at each other, then back at the strange figure dressed in black. That sinister smile flickered across his face again.

"You should be honoured," the Memory Man scolded us. "Now that you've seen how powerful I am, don't you think it would be a privilege to work with me?"

"But you stole our memories," I reminded him. "You scared us to death in that bus."

"So, why should we trust you?" Alonso demanded.

"Well, if you won't trust me," the Memory Man gave a hollow laugh, "you'll just have to OBEY me!"

He snapped his fingers and, suddenly, a long, thick python was writhing on the ground in front of us.

I screamed and jumped back. The python unrolled itself lazily and stared at me.

Alonso grabbed my arm. "Eugene, it's not real! It's just another of his memory tricks!"

The Memory Man chuckled. "Is that so?" he asked. "Tell me, boys, have either of you ever seen a python?"

We shook our heads, frowning.

"Then it didn't come from your memories, did it?"

"So it must be... REAL?!" I yelled.

It was Alonso's turn to scream. The snake's eyes blinked at him curiously. The ugly body unravelled itself further, edging towards him. Slowly, its head lifted, higher and higher, and its savage jaws opened wider.

"The python is one of my memories," explained the Memory Man. "Would you like to fond out how real it is?"

Alonso trembled, staring into the python's mouth. "N-n-no..."

"And do you promise to be more co-operative from now on?"

Alonso tried to speak. The snake had dragged itself even closer. It massive tail was coiling up, ready for the final attack.


The Memory Man snapped his fingers.

Within the instant, the writhing monster had disappeared without trace.

"I really don't want to punish you boys," he told us, "but if you force me, I won't hesitate."

"But why us?" I asked him. "Why did you choose us? We can't do anything to help you."

"That's where you're wrong," the Memory Man corrected me. "Think for a moment, Eugene. Who are your neighbours?"

What a dumb question, I thought.

"Well, there's Mr Chance, and Mrs Wendeline," I began, trying to remember all their names and faces, "and then there's Mr Crawford."

"Some more," the Memory Man prompted me.

"There's Mr Reynolds, and Mr Hale," I said.

"Mr Hale..." The Memory Man held up his hand for me to stop. "You both know the Hale family quite well, isn't that so?"

We nodded uncertainly. I was beginning to wonder if the Memory Man was, well, wacky as well as dangerous. So what if we knew Mr Hale?

"And can you remember where Mr Hale works?" asked the Memory Man, his eyes mocking us.

Alonso scratched his head. "In a bank, I think."

"Good boy, Alonso. I can see our fun and games with the python have improved your attitude." The Memory Man rubbed his hands together. "Yes, your neighbour Mr Hale works in the local bank, the one that your school bus goes past every morning. Mr Hale, in fact, is the assistant manager of the bank, which means he has the keys to the bank."

"So, what?" I asked, pretending not to understand.

"So, because you are part of Mr Hale's memories, just as he is part of yours, I can control him," the Memory Man announced. "I can make him open the bank for me, whenever I want, and give me all the money."

"No!" I shouted. "We're not going to help you rob a bank!"

But the Memory Man just smiled. "Eugene, when the time comes, you will. And you won't even know you're doing it."

"It's not fair!" yelled Alonso.

"Who cares?" the Memory Man shrugged.

"The police will get you!" I warned him.

The Memory Man roared with laughter. "How? It's all an illusion, so what can they do? None of it will be real, except for the fact that all the money will be missing!" The Memory Man fished an old-fashioned watched on a chain from his coat pocket. "Well, I've kept you long enough. It's time you were coming home from school..."

He snapped his fingers.

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO... that eerie sound of a midnight wind howled around us. Suddenly, a door flew open in one of the black walls. The Memory Man began to fade into darkness. Alonso and I ran for the door.

We leapt through it.

And straight onto the muddy grass near the bus stop.

But number 777 was pulling away. All our friends were waving goodbye to us. We were on our way home from school, loaded with our schoolbags and homework, and everything that had happened hadn't happened at all.

Alonso sat in my room, gloomily staring at his homework. He called in every day after school and Mum always served us cool drinks and some treats.

"What's the matter with you two?" she had asked that day. "Such long faces..."

When we were alone, I sat up straight in my chair and tapped my pen on my desk nervously.

"It must have happened," I said. "I know we went to school. I can remember all the lessons. But I can also remember the Memory Man, and the bus, and chicken-killer."

Alonso wiped sweat from his forehead. "And the python." He looked at me anxiously. "Eugene, we can't help him rob a bank. It's crazy!" He shook his head. "Or am I going crazy, or what?"

"We have to tell somebody," I suggested.

"But who would believe us?" Alonso started pacing up and down. "If we tell the police, or our parents, they'll think we're nuts. They'll laugh at us. They'll send us to a... a doctor, or something."

"What about Mr Hale?" I wondered. "Can we tell him?"

"But how?" Alonso shrugged. "What do we say? Excuse me, Mr Hale, but your memory is going to be stolen and so is your money! He'd tell our parents and then what would happen?"

I jumped up. "I've got it! We don't tell Mr Hale! We tell Samantha!"

Alonso stopped pacing. "His daughter! We see her every day at the bus stop! B-but," he hesitated, "do you think she'd believe us? Do you think she'd even listen to us?"

"It's worth a try," I told him.

But Alonso suddenly shook his head. "We can't!" He shivered. "What if the Memory Man finds out? What if he's — well, watching us somehow?"

"We have to risk it."

Immediately, I felt better. Why should we let the Memory Man bluff us? Who did he think he was anyway? Maybe it had all happened in our imagination, the crazy ride on the bus, and the headless driver. Maybe our memories were just playing tricks on us. Maybe the Memory Man did not even exist!

Alonso agreed that we would talk to Samantha Hale the next morning, before the school bus arrived. That night, I set my alarm clock a little earlier, so I could be downstairs in time to catch her. Alonso said he was going to do the same.

I drifted into a strange sleep. I kept hearing an icy wind, and I was back on the school bus in the clouds again, and chicken-killer was wrestling with a huge python which ate his head. I woke up screaming, but nobody heard me. Then, I was asleep again, and nothing disturbed me until the alarm clock jangled.

I met Alonso on the stairs. We hurried down and saw Samantha Hale, waiting with her friends by the bus stop. Suddenly, we both felt nervous.

"We can't just tell her about the bank," Alonso whispered, looking at all the girls clustered around Samantha.

"Maybe we just say hello," I offered, "and we tell her we want to talk to her later... you know, after school or something."

Okay, so I'm chicken!

We shuffled closer. All the girls turned to watch us.

"Hi!" waved Samantha. She was our height, and quite pretty, I suppose. Like, she had long hair which was very shiny, and big eyes like the movie stars do. I mean, she wasn't exactly ugly!

"Hi," I mumbled. Alonso nudged me. "Er, Samantha," I began, "Alonso and I want to... er... well..."

"Yes?" she asked, curiously. All her stupid girlfriends burst out giggling. I could feel my face turning red.

"We've got something to tell you," I blurted.

"What is it?"


It happened, just like that! That wind, that eerie, whistling wind, was blowing in from a graveyard. And suddenly, on the ground in front of us, with its jaws opened and its tail coiled up for the attack, was the python. And we could hear his voice, the Memory Man's voice, echoing again and again in our minds.

"I don't want to punish you... punish you... punish you... but if you force me, I won't hesitate..."

And his howling laughter was lost in the wind. Ice cold fear struck into the pits of our stomachs.

Alonso screamed. I screamed. And the girls burst out laughing.

"What's wrong with them?" one asked.

"Boys! Nerds! Stooo-pid!" said another.

We ran. Straight back down the path to the stairs. We collapsed onto the steps, trying to catch our breath, sweat pouring down our cheeks.

If ever I had any doubts, they were gone.

The Memory Man existed, oh yes. He was real.

And really powerful, too!
It was the worse day at school I'd ever had! I couldn't think. I couldn't even remember what 2 plus 2 came to! I said I thought it was 5, and the whole class laughed at me. It was the same in every subject. All the things that I knew I knew, I didn't know any more. It was like all my memories had been stolen.

It was even worse for Alonso. When the teacher asked him where water came from, he said the tap.

The Memory Man was teaching us a lesson, I thought to myself with a grim smile.

That afternoon, I went home alone. I sat in my room, staring at the wall, wondering what to do. I couldn't even remember what my homework was.

"Eugene..." It was Mum, looking around the door, with a very worried face. "You've got a visitor..."

For a horrible moment, I thought it might be the Memory Man, come to my home to punish me. But he wouldn't bother, would he? All he had to do was torture me with memories!

I got us, following Mum into the lounge room. I guessed it was Alonso, feeling lonely.

"Hello, Eugene."

I almost jumped. There, on the couch, watching me with those big, big eyes was Samantha Hale. She was wearing a faded Boyzone T-shirt and trendy jeans. I mean, she really wasn't ugly at all!

I sat in a chair beside her and Mum served us biscuits and Coke. Samantha thanked her.

"My pleasure, dear. Eugene needs a bit of cheering up today," said Mum as she left. "He had such a terrible day at school..."

Samantha bit into a biscuit. "What happened?" she asked.

"I don't know," I mumbled, staring at my hands. "Just a bad day, I guess."

"Like this morning?" she asked sharply.

I shot her a quick look. She was watching me carefully. I didn't know what to say, so I just nodded.

"That's why I'm here," she explained. "I knew you were upset this morning. My friends shouldn't have laughed at you."

"It was nothing," I mumbled.

"Are you sure?" she pressed on. "You and Alonso were staring at the ground, like you could see something there, something really scary..." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Was it a python?"

"Huh?" I leapt to my feet, almost knocking over the snacks. My flesh crawled with cold fear. I was shaking with terror. "H-h-how do you know?"

Her eyes were different now, half-closed, studying me, as though as she trying to decide whether she could trust me. "And you heard something, too," she prompted.

"Like — a wind blowing," I confessed, "howling, really loud."

She nodded. "What did he call himself?" she asked in a very low voice.

I looked into her eyes. I could suddenly see how troubled she was.

"The Memory Man..." I barely breathed the words, so nobody could hear them except her. I fought to control my shock. "You mean, you've seen him, too?"

"I thought... I was going mad," she sobbed. "Crazy things were happening to me. People I'd seen before coming back when I didn't expect them, doing silly things. Then, this man, all in black, telling me I had to do whatever he told me..." She wiped away a tear. "I couldn't tell anybody."

I hate it when girls cry. Pretty girls are even worse. I never know what to do. I handed her a biscuit.

"What are we going to do?" she begged.

"Did he tell you why he was doing these things?"

She nodded. "Because of Dad. The bank..." She touched my hand, like it might help her. "I was even thinking of... running away," she swallowed. "I thought, well, if I just run away, disappeared, then the Memory Man couldn't find me..."

I was stunned. "Where could you go? Your parents would call the police. Then what would you tell them?"

"I was really scared. I knew what the Memory Man wanted, but there was nothing I could think of to stop him." Suddenly, she smiled. "Then, this morning, when I saw what happened to you and Alonso, I knew I wasn't alone..."

She kept looking at me as though she expected a miracle. What did she think I could do?

"Hey, don't worry," I told her. "We'll think of something. Three heads are better than one," I joked, my mind a complete blank.

She jumped up. "I knew you'd have the answer! Wow! That's really cool, Eugene!"

My mouth hung open. "It is?" What had I said?

"Think of all the memories we have! We can share them! We can put your memories into my mind, and my memories into yours!" she giggled. "Then the Memory Man won't know whose memories they are!"

I started laughing, too. "Really cool, huh?" Eugene Gill, I told myself, you're brilliant!

"Three heads against one Memory Man," I boasted. "We're sure to win!"

Hah! If only I'd known the truth!

I must have been crazy, thinking we could beat the Memory Man so easily!
We agreed to meet the next day after school, Samantha, Alonso and I. When she left, I went back to my bedroom and threw myself onto my bunk. I folded my hands behind my head and gazed up at the ceiling.

"Yes, what a real cool idea," I thought aloud.

It made sense, didn't it? If we all shared our memories, none of us would have anything to fear from the Memory Man. If he tried to scare me with a headless chicken-killer, Samantha and Alonso could tell me it was only a memory and not a real headless chicken-killer.


I was so busy thinking how clever I was, I didn't hear it at first. A strange whistling noise, growing closer and louder. Suddenly, a deafening roar filled my room. I was trapped in a raging windstorm.

Before I could do anything, a giant green python fell from nowhere and coiled itself around my chair. Its evil head lifted towards my desk and examined my homework. Somewhere, in the sounds of the howling wind, I could hear the Memory Man laughing and laughing.

I forced down a scream and backed away to my door.

"Hey, Eugene," a voice said inside me, "didn't you just say how brilliant you were?" I could hear myself mocking myself, and it made me angry. It was the truth! Where was all my cleverness now? Where was all that Big Talk? I was chicken! There I was, staring at the hideous python, scared stiff, shaking like a leaf, and the Memory Man had won again!

No, I decided. No, no, no, no, no! This time, I'd fight back. This time, I'd beat him. But how?

The Memory Man had boasted that the python was one of his memories. By making it appear inside that weird tree, he had made it become one of mine. So, this morning, at the bus stop, it was easy for him to make it real again.

Now, he was doing it again. Just like turning on a tap. Make Eugene think there was a python on his chair and he'd become a pathetic, pitiful idiot.

Okay, so think!


What could defeat the memory of something terrifying?

Easy! The memory of something happy!

So, quickly, I searched my memory. What could I remember that was really happy, really fantastic?

Got it! I remembered Samantha sitting on the couch, telling me how clever I was. That was a very nice memory!

I shut my eyes and thought hard, really hard. The picture of Samantha returned to my mind. There she was, sitting in her Boyzone T-shirt and jeans, chewing on a biscuit. The picture of Samantha got bigger and clearer. It filled my mind. Nothing else. Just Samantha.

Slowly, I opened my eye, then both eyes.

I couldn't believe it.

The python had gone!

Instead, Samantha was in my chair.

Well, sort of...

She was wrapped around it like a snake, a snake in a Boyzone T-shirt, a biscuit in her mouth, her head waving over my homework.


I shut my eyes again. Tighter. I concentrated even harder. I tried to remember how she moved, the way she talked, the way her eyes looked.

Next time I opened my eyes, she was sitting in the chair, nibbling a biscuit, smiling at me, and the whistling sound had gone.

It worked!

Wow, I yelled. WOW!

I could hardly wait until I met Samantha and Alonso the next day...
When our school bus reached the bus stop, Samantha was already waiting for us. Alonso and I waved goodbye to our friends and jumped down. Samantha suggested we walk through to the small park behind our estate and talk there.

"Do you think the Memory Man is following us?" Alonso looked around.

"I don't know," I admitted. But we decided to split up, in case he was watching.

Ten minutes later, we were sitting in the shade, and I described what had happened to me the night before.

"Does that mean we can beat the Memory Man?" Alonso asked hopefully.

"If I can do it once," I boasted, "why can't I do it again?"

"And the snake looked like me?" Samantha looked insulted.

"Only the first time." I blushed. "Then it was you!"

"How are we going to share our memories?" Alonso wanted to know.

"Talk about them, I guess," said Samantha. She started to tell us how the Memory Man played tricks with her memories. "The first time," she remembered, "I was shopping for Mum. I went into the same supermarket we always go to, but it was weird. It was almost empty. Just these strange people, people I'd seen before, like the man who fixes Dad's car, and the old lady who does the ironing at the laundry. But they were different, their hair was funny, the wrong color, and they did strange things. And then I forgot what I had to buy, and I bought all the wrong things, and when I took the trolley to the check-out, it had a python in it..."

"Yuk!" Alonso shivered.

"We've got to have a plan!" I told them. "We have to be ready for the Memory Man, so he can't catch us by surprise."

"But even if we share our memories, what happens if we aren't together?" Alonso frowned. "What if we can't talk to each other?"

"Every time something weird happens," I said, "think of a different memory."

"So, if I saw chicken-killer," Alonso grinned, "I should think of something else, right? Try to remember someone else, with a happy memory. Like going to my uncle's house and eating all that good food... like curry, like chicken soup," Alonso savored the memory.

"But we have to be careful," I warned them. "We shouldn't talk about this any more. We never know when the Memory Man might be listening to us. We mustn't let him find out what we're doing!"

"TOO LATE...!"

I froze.

It was the Memory Man's voice.

But it was impossible! I looked around. We were alone. Just the three of us. Samantha, Alonso and I!

"H-h-h-he's here," gasped Alonso, fearfully clutching my arm.


Alonso leapt up. His eyes were wide with horror. I was on my feet, too. But there was nobody else in the park. Just us three!

"Samantha," I asked, "you heard him, didn't you?"

But she was just staring at me, with a strange kind of smile, an eerie look on her face. My spine tingled.

And that was when we heard the high whistling sound, the wind howling from the tombs, circling around us, louder and louder.

And as we watched, Samantha Hale began to change...

Slowly, slowly...

Her face fading away...

Her body vanishing...

Like she was being swallowed up by a ghost...

Until it was the Memory Man sitting in front of us, his evil laughter ringing in our ears.

"You stupid boys!" he accused us. "You thought you could fool me, the Memory Man?"

"B-b-but where's Samantha?" I begged.

"You only thought she was here," he sneered. "You were talking to your memory of Samantha..." Hid voice became icy, his eyes glittering with menace. "I knew you were up to no good. I had to find out what trouble you were going to cause me..."

Alonso screamed. I screamed. We grabbed our bags and ran, the wind howling at our heels, and the Memory Man's cruel laughter echoing all around the park.

We sped down the path, rushed around the corner of the apartment block and crashed into a familiar figure.


We went sprawling onto the ground.

"Hey, Eugene... Alonso, too... what's the big hurry?" Mr Hale asked us with a puzzled grin.

We just gaped at him.

"B-b-but what are you d-d-doing here?" I stammered weakly.

He looked very surprised. "I'm just going home early. Samantha isn't feeling well, so I'm going to drive her to the doctor's..."

But Alonso scrambled up, clutching his bag like a weapon. "You're not real! You aren't really here at all!" he yelled and raced for the stairs.

"Don't leave me!" I shouted and tore after him.

I glanced back once.

Mr Hale was standing there, a very worried look on his face. But whether he was real or not, I didn't want to find out. I could still hear that evil wind, rushing across the park, and the Memory Man's laughter was the most horrible, mocking sound I had ever heard...
I must have fallen asleep. Mum shook me awake anxiously, moving all my school books off the bed.

"What time is it?" I mumbled wearily.

"Time for dinner," she said, fussing with my homework. "You've been sleeping since you got back from school."

I sat up with a start. My window was still open, but now it was dark outside. The lights were on in the apartment block opposite. Suddenly, I trembled. I had a flash of memory. Going to the park. Samantha turning into the Memory Man!

"Eugene, you've been acting very oddly," Mum began, looking at me closely. "Is there something worrying you?"

"N-n-no..." I shut my eyes. "Just tired, that's all."

Mr Hale rang me tonight," Mum announced, then waited before she went on. I stiffened, dreading what he might have told her. "He said he saw you and Alonso downstairs this afternoon."

I couldn't think of anything to say.

"He said you both looked very frightened of something," Mum told me, waiting for me to explain.

"We saw this... this strange man," I admitted. Well, it was the truth, wasn't it? "So we ran away!"

"And where was he?" Mum frowned.

"In the park." I forced a smile. "But it's okay, Mum, he didn't follow us."

"If you see him again, I'll call the police," Mum promised.

"Thanks, Mum," I said, wishing it was all that easy. If only Mum could ring the police, if only the Memory Man could be locked up!

Mum looked back from the door. "Mr Hale said that Samantha had a fever. Would you like to take her some cakes tomorrow after school?"

"No!" I almost shouted. I don't think I wanted to see Samantha again, for a long time. Then, I noticed how shocked Mum was.

"I thought you liked Samantha?" she asked.

I shrugged. "Well, she's okay, I suppose, for a girl."

Mum shook her head and left. I fell back against the pillows. I really did want to see Samantha. I had so many questions to ask her. Like, what had happened to her that afternoon?

Then, I began to sweat. I wondered if her fever had been caused by the Memory Man? Was he the one who had made her sick? Was her fever something to do with his plan to rob the bank? I shivered.

I didn't eat very much that night. Dad asked me what the matter was, so I said I had a lot of homework.

How I wished I could have told him the truth! How I wanted to ask him for help! But I didn't dare. I knew that, somehow, the Memory Man was able to watch me, every single moment. He seemed to know everything I said, everything I thought. I wasn't safe anywhere!

Back in my room, I opened my homework and just stared at it. None of it seemed important. What could Maths do to help me now? What use was Science? And who cared how to change a sentence from the present tense to the future tense? I didn't have a future! I just had memories that the Memory Man played with!

I went to bed early. I pulled back my sheets and screamed. There was a python curled up, watching me, and I heard a sudden rush of whistling wind.

My door flew open and Dad rushed in. I must have turned very pale because he took one look at me and stopped.

"What's the matter, Eugene?" he asked quietly.

I just pointed at my bed. What could I say?

I saw Dad's face change. He suddenly had a very puzzled look. I turned towards the bed and gasped. The python had gone. The sheets were completely bare.

He patted me on the head and told me to get some rest. He must have thought I was studying too hard. Mum came in, too, and told me not to worry about anything.

I slid into bed, imagining I could feel the warmth of the huge snake on my sheets. Pythons must be warm, right? Or maybe they're cold? I didn't want to know. I just wanted to close my eyes and sleep... and sleep... and sleep...

Then, I thought I heard that howling wind, as cold as the grave. But it was just my alarm clock. I slammed my fist down on it and lurched out of bed. I rubbed my eyes. It seemed so early. I hurried to get dressed, thinking up excuses why I hadn't done my homework. It was the python, it had swallowed my Maths.

Mum and Dad were still asleep where I dragged myself to the front door. My schoolbag felt like it was loaded with bricks. Downstairs, Alonso was waiting for me, red-eyed and half asleep.

"Why is it still so dark?" he grumbled. "Where is everyone?"

"Maybe they're all sleeping in," I mumbled back.

The street lights were still on as we walked to the bus stop. It was deserted. But our bus was already there, waiting for us, its headlights on, its windows in darkness.

"It's empty!" warned Alonso. "It's not our bus."

But it was. I checked the number. "777"... three times unlucky!

"M-m-maybe we shouldn't get on," Alonso whispered.

We had no choice.
A gust of wind raced around us, almost pushing us across to the bus. We clambered aboard and the door hissed shut. The bus pulled out into the street.

"Eugene!" Alonso's voice was choked with alarm. "Look!" He pointed to the man behind the wheel, the man with the orange hair and the lumpy face.

"Chicken-killer!" I gasped.

"And he's put his head back on!" gulped Alonso.

Chicken-killer turned to greet us. "You cannot stand while the bus is moving," he snapped. "It is very dangerous! You must sit down!"

I stared at him. He glared back. This time, it was the real chicken-killer. I was sure of it! So, that meant chicken-killer was working for the Memory Man.

Alonso raced towards the back of the bus. I followed past all the dark and shadowy seats. Suddenly, I realized we weren't the only passengers. Two people were sitting in the back row. One was the fish man, a stupid kind of grin on his face. And beside him was —

"Samantha!" I yelled. "What are you doing here?"

"Samantha!" Alonso called. Then, he froze. "Are you — really Samantha?"

She looked at him blankly. "Of course I am," she replied weakly. Her eyes had a feverish light. Her skin was very pale. But she still looked very pretty, for a girl, with a fever.

"Samantha," I cut in. I leaned closer, dropping my voice to a whisper. "H-h-have you seen... him?"

"Do you mean me?" asked the Memory Man softly, suddenly appearing on the seat next to her.

The Memory Man had trapped us again!

And something told me that, this time, it wasn't going to be a game.

This time, it was going to be for real!

He was going to unleash all his powers and make us partners in his crazy scheme...
The Memory Man looked from me to Samantha, and then to Alonso. He was gloating, patting his bow-tie proudly.

"Well, well," he chuckled, "we meet again. But this time, it won't be such a long ride," he sneered at Alonso, "no jungle, no trees..." He looked out the window. "In fact, my little friends, we have almost reached our destination..."

The bus was turning into a narrow laneway beside the bank. Chicken-killer cut the engine and switched off the headlights. For a moment, nobody moved. We just sat there in silence. I could hear my heart thumping. We were going to rob the bank, and it was too late to warn anyone!

The fish man looked at his watch. "Four a.m., boss," he grinned. "Dead on time."

Somehow, the Memory Man had cheated with our memories of waking up for school. Four a.m.! No wonder it was so dark and all the streets were empty. Our parents would still be asleep. No one would even know we were missing. I wondered what he would do next...

"Of course, Aloysius," the Memory Man nodded vainly to the fish man, "all my plans run precisely on time!"

I looked at the fish man. Aloysius! What a nutty name! I'd tell the police about him. There couldn't be many fish sellers called Aloysius for them to look for. Then I swallowed. What made me think we'd ever be able to call the police? The Memory Man might make us just... disappear... along with the money!

"All we need now is Samantha's father," the Memory Man continued, pulling a cellphone from inside his coat. "Let's invite Mr Hale to join us, shall we?"

"No!" screamed Samantha. "You can't! Dad will never help you!"

"But he will help you, my dear, if he thinks you're in danger!" The Memory Man dialed a number and handed me the phone. "No tricks, Eugene. Just tell Mr Hale you're here at the bank with Samantha..."

My hand was shaking as I took the phone. I pressed it to my ear. I could hear it ringing and ringing. And then a voice answered.

"Hello...?" It was Mr Hale, sounding very sleepy.

"Er..." I hesitated, but the Memory Man nudged me impatiently. "I —"

"Who is that?" Mr Hale's voice demanded, starting to sound angry.

"Mr Hale," I began, my teeth chattering with fear, "this is Eugene Gill... it's v-v-very urgent, otherwise I wouldn't ring you so early... it's... it's... it's about S-S-Samantha..."

"Samantha?" Mr Hale was really puzzled. "She's asleep."

"N-n-no," I told him, "she's here with us."

I heard the phone rattle. He must have dropped it and ran to look for her. A minute later he was back. "Where is she?! Eugene, tell me!"

Sweat was pouring down my cheeks. "She's here with me and Alonso, at your b-b-bank."

He started shouting questions. "Why?! How did she get there?! Is she all right? What's going on?!"

The Memory Man whispered into my ear. "Tell him to get down here fast! Just say Samantha doesn't look very well and wants to see him!"

I took a deep breath and did what I was told. "Please, Mr Hale, come down here, quickly! She wants to talk to you!"

"Tell him to come alone!" hissed the Memory Man.

I gulped for air. "She said, she only wants to see you!"

The Memory Man snatched the phone away and switched it off. He glanced at his big pocket watch. "He'll be here in about five minutes. Not a moment to lose!" He and the fish man stood up. "Aloysius and I have to make your father welcome, Samantha. We won't be far away, so don't try and tricks," he snarled. "I'll leave Albert to keep you company..."

So, chicken-killer had a name, too. Albert! As the Memory Man and Aloysius hurried from the bus and disappeared into the darkness, Albert got up from his seat. He was carrying a long stick. He whacked it loudly on one of the seats.

"You won't give me any trouble now, will you?" he laughed.

My mind was racing. Samantha was sobbing. Alonso was gaping at chicken-killer. I had to do something. Anything. But what...? Then I remembered. Memories! I could use memories, couldn't I? I could play the same tricks as the Memory Man!

I was trembling with terror. I looked around. I had to find something I could use. Aha! I spotted the strap of my schoolbag.

It was all I had! It would have to do! I pushed my bag down onto the floor, so chicken-killer Albert couldn't see what I was doing. I pressed down on the bag with my feet, and pulled on the strap as hard as I could. Nothing happened! I tightened my grip on the strap, pushed down even harder on the bag, and tugged with all my might. There was a sharp snap, and the strap broke loose from my bag.

Samantha was watching me, tears rolling down her face. She must have thought I was crazy, wrecking my schoolbag. Hey, maybe I was crazy, but I didn't have time to think about it. I just had to do whatever I could! I had to save Mr Hale and the bank!

I started winding the strap into a ball, round and round, and I stared at it, concentrating with all my mind. I kept staring and staring, until all my memories of the python got stronger and stronger, until the strap was no longer a piece of green plastic, but a long, skinny green python! Its skin rubbed against my flesh, and I could imagine its jaws opening, ready to bite into my hand.

If I could believe it was a python, I could make Albert believe it, too!

"Alb-b-bert..." I called, with real fear in my voice, "d-d-do you like snakes...?
Albert was half-way down the aisle, waving the long stick at us. His eyes popped wide with alarm.

"S-s-snakes?" He sounded terrified. "W-w-where have you got snakes?" he stammered.

"Right here!" I yelled and hurled the green plastic strap into the air.

"AIYEEEEEEEEEE!" he bellowed.

Samantha screamed. Alonso ducked. The strap flew across the bus towards Albert. For a moment, I could believe it was a real, living, writhing baby python.

"PYTHONNNNNNNNNN!" he howled, dropping the stick and charging out through the door. The last we saw of him was a patch of orange hair vanishing into the night.

"Wow!" Alonso's eyes were as round as saucers. "Where did you get the python?"

Eugene made it," Samantha giggled, "from memory." She reached over and kissed my cheek.

Girls! Why do they always want to be romantic? I just hoped that Alonso couldn't see me blushing as I leapt down the aisle towards the door.

"Come on!" I called. "We've got to stop your Dad before the Memory Man gets him!"

We tumbled out of the bus. I led the way around to the front of the bank. We moved quickly, keeping in the shadows. As we reached the corner, we could hear voices. Samantha clutched my arm. One of them was her father's.

"Who are you?" he was saying. "Where's Eugene? And where's my daughter?"

We edged closer, and I looked around the corner. The Memory Man and Aloysius were standing at the door to the bank. Mr Hale was holding a bunch of keys.

"If you want to see them again, you'll open that door and get us the money," the Memory Man told him.

"What are we going to do?" whispered Samantha.

Why do girls expect us boys to have all the ideas? My mind had gone blank. All I could think was how powerful the Memory Man was. And how big and dangerous Aloysius looked.

"You'll pay for this," Mr Hale warned them, holding out the keys.

I didn't know what to do! So I took a huge breath, and then ran towards him as fast as I could. For a second or two, nothing happened. Nobody heard me. Then suddenly, the Memory Man spun around. He looked stunned.

"It's that stupid boy!" he screamed. "Stop him, Aloysius!"

Too late!

I snatched the keys from Mr Hale and raced back to the bus. I could hear Aloysius running and puffing behind me. I could hear the Memory Man yelling my name. I could hear Mr Hale shouting, too, something about the police.

"Quick! Back to the bus!" I called to Samantha and Alonso.

We jumped on board and I pulled the lever I'd seen the driver use. The door hissed shut behind us.

I was trying to catch my breath. I shoved the keys into my pocket and tried to think. The controls looked so different from Dad's car. I flung myself into the driver's seat. I saw this big handle near the floor. Was it the handbrake? I pushed it down. The bus began to move.

There was a hammering sound from the door. Samantha and Alonso were screaming. I glanced up. I saw the Memory Man and Aloysius outside, slamming their fists against the glass.

The bus was rolling faster and faster. I tried to steer it. But it was going backwards, down the alley, out into the street. Then it bounced against a light pole and stopped. So much for our escape. We were trapped.

"What would they do in the movies?" asked Alonso, looking around desperately.

"They'd make a lot of noise!" suggested Samantha. "And turn on all the lights!"

Good! Except how?

I pressed down hard on the middle of the steering wheel. The horn was deafening. So I kept horning, while Alonso and Samantha screamed and banged on the windows.

I started flicking switches.

The headlights came on.

Then the hazard lights.

Then all the lights inside the bus.

"Why doesn't somebody hear us!?" Samantha wailed.

I began horning even harder. Then I had an idea. The "SOS" emergency signal. In Morse code. The signal that ships always send when they're sinking. So I tried it. Three short honks, three long honks, three short honks, over and over again. Surely somebody out there knew Morse code! Hadn't anybody seen Titanic?!

I looked through the windscreen. I could see lights coming on in some of the apartment blocks, one or two lights at first, then more and more.

"Looks like we've woken the neighbors!" I cheered.

"VERY CLEVER!" yelled the Memory Man, suddenly appearing beside me. "GIVE ME THE KEYS... NOW!"

Somehow he always managed to beat us! One minute he'd been outside banging on the door, the next he was inside grabbing my hand. How did he do that!?

"THE KEYS, EUGENE!" he demanded, twisting my hand until I screamed with pain.

I dug out the keys and he swiped them away with a crooked smile. "At last! There's still time to get the money," he boasted. "But as for you three, you won't get away this time!"

He snapped his fingers. The biggest, longest, meanest looking python I'd ever seen was coiling itself down the aisle of the bus.

Samantha jumped onto a seat.

I froze, my sweaty hands clutching the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white.

But Alonso just laughed.

"Ha, ha, ha, Memory Man!" he mocked. He grabbed the python's tail. "You think you can fool us with your stupid snakes?!" He waved the python's tail in the air, while the rest of the snake twisted around to attack him. Alonso roared with laughter. "This isn't a real python! It's just the strap from Eugene's schoolbag!"

I stared in horror. "Er, Alonso," I began, in a very quiet voice, "I... er... I think you'd better look over there behind you..."

Alonso turned to where I was pointing.

There, on the floor, half hidden under a seat, was the green plastic strap from my schoolbag.

Alonso looked at it, puzzled.

Then he looked at the massive, twisting thing he held in his hands.

And then his eyes rolled up until we couldn't see them any more.

And then he fainted.

Right on top of the writhing, wriggling python!
Everyone started yelling at once. Samantha was screaming at Alonso to get up. The Memory Man was shouting at me to open the door. And I was calling for someone to help us.

OO Then it all got even noisier!

OO Police sirens were wailing outside. Policemen were pounding on the door. The Memory Man was muttering strange words, trying to make himself disappear. What would Mel Gibson do now? Easy! I just flicked the lever and the bus door hissed open.

OO The police jumped on board. The officer-in-charge was shouting at everyone to be quiet.

OO "What's going on here!?" he boomed.

OO The Memory Man dived for the door. He was pointing at us and yelling. "Stop those kids! They tried to steal my bus!"

OO Then Mr Hale was on board. He was yelling, too. "Stop that man! He tried to rob my bank!"

OO But the loudest of all was Samantha. She was screaming. "Stop that python! It's trying to eat Alonso!"

OO The police rushed over to the snake. They lifted Alonso out of the way and chased the snake to the back of the bus. Another policeman grabbed hold of Samantha, lifting her clear over the seats and carrying her outside. I squeezed out from the driver's seat and ran down the steps.

OO Outside, I couldn't believe my eyes. Police cars blocked the street, their lights flashing blue and red. Hundreds of people in their pajamas were crowded around to see what all the fuss was about. Newspaper reporters raced towards me. Their cameras popped in my face. Then a television van pulled up. More cameras spilled out, with cables snaking everywhere... yuk!

OO I searched the crowd. There were only two people I wanted to see. And there they were! Mum and Dad, standing to one side, dazed and worried. I ran towards them, waving my arms.

OO "It's all okay! We're safe! We stopped the Memory Man!"

OO Dad knelt down beside me. "Eugene, I want to know what's been going on..."

OO Poor Dad! He looked so confused! "Please," I begged him, "I want to go home..."

OO But we couldn't. Not yet. First, we were driven down to the police station. Samantha, Alonso and I were questioned by the detectives. Our parents just listened, open-mouthed.

OO "So, the driver's head fell off?" One of the policemen asked me, shaking his own in disbelief. "And then it talked?"

OO "And the bus drove inside a tree?" another one questioned me.

OO "And there was a python in your bedroom?" a third one wanted to be sure.

OO "Yes, yes, yes..." I groaned.

OO "You d-d-don't believe me?" asked Alonso.

OO "It all happened," sighed Samantha. "Really it did..."

OO One of the policemen stopped laughing and gave us a very serious look. "You think all those things happened, but really they didn't. You see, we've been trying to catch this Memory Man for a long time. He's more than just an illusionist," he explained, "he's also a hypnotist. He can look into your eyes and hypnotize you, he can make you see things and hear things that really aren't there. That's what makes him so dangerous."

OO "But what about the chicken-killer?" Alonso wondered. "And fish man?"

OO The police laughed. "Chicken-killer? You mean Albert, with the orange hair?" one of the detectives grinned. "We picked him up an hour ago. And Aloysius the fish seller has been arrested, too. So you don't have to worry about them, either."

OO Mr Hale cleared his throat. "Excuse me, officer," he began, talking to the senior detective, "if Eugene hadn't shown such bravery and taken my keys before the criminals got them, I don't know what would have happened. He and Alonso have both been very resourceful in stopping a crime."

OO The senior policeman agreed. "Rest assured, we won't forget to thank them..."

OO And they didn't! A few weeks later, the police came to our school assembly and presented Alonso and I with special medals. They called us heroes! You should have heard all the cheers we got. And then Samantha Hale had to go and spoil it! That afternoon, she kissed me in front of all her girl friends at the bus stop and I didn't know where to hide my red face...

OO So, you may think that "777" is still a lucky number after all? Don't you believe it. The Memory Man and his cronies may be locked up in jail, but some nights I can still hear that evil wind howling in my bedroom, and the python still drops down from my ceiling now and then.

OO But one thing we did learn was how to use our memories. In fact, we've got very good at it.

OO So good, in fact, that Alonso and I can now turn ourselves into each other.

OO Like yesterday...

OO I can't play soccer for nuts. So Alonso took my place. He became me. And he kicked the winning goal. Which everybody thought I'd kicked!

OO And while he did that for me, I went over to his uncle's place and ate lots of curry!

OO Scary, isn't it?


Next time on When Midnight Strikes!

Turn off your lights, get ready for frights! When the clock strikes midnight and the moon's full and bright, it's time for dread and fear. For Ominous Flare is here, with double the danger and twice the terror!

Bryan Lloyd's new goldfish does weird things. But when Bryan and his friends end up in the fish tank, who can stop the REVENGE OF THE GOLDFISH?

Find out next time,
When Midnight Strikes!